ACE stands for “adverse childhood experiences;” experiences that harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, many brain illnesses, and are at the root of most violence.
“ACES” comes from the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a groundbreaking public health study that discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.
There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect and five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment
Though there are other types of traumas, the ACE Study included only those 10 childhood traumas because those were mentioned as most common by a group of about 300 Kaiser members; those traumas were also well studied individually in the research literature.
The most important thing to remember is that the ACE score is meant as a guideline: If other types of toxic stress were present over months or years, then those would likely increase the risk of health consequences.
*source for above paragraphs: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/
How can knowing my own ACE Score help me as a parent?
A Trauma Informed Parent understands how their own history impacts how they parent; particularly if that history includes trauma or a significant number of adverse childhood experiences. Parenthood can resurrect complex feelings affecting how parents react to our children. An awareness of their own score can help parents understand the root of their behavior; seeking help if need be.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW YOUR AND/OR YOUR CHILD’S ACE SCORE, WHAT TO DO?
The ACE score is meant as guidance. It tells you about one type of risk factor among many. It doesn’t directly take into account your diet or genes, how you eat or if you frequently smoke or drink — to name just a few of the other major influences on health.
ACE scores don’t tally the positive experiences in early life that can help build resilience and protect a child from the effects of trauma. Having a loving grandparent, a supportive and understanding teacher, or a trusted friend may mitigate the long-term effects of early trauma.
“There are people with high ACE scores who do remarkably well,” says Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrician and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Resilience, says Dr. Shonkoff, builds throughout life, and close relationships are key.
For both parents wishing to do more however, finding a trauma informed therapist can be extremely helpful. Research also demonstrates the effectiveness of alternative therapies such as trauma informed art, yoga or mindfulness.
According to trauma specialist, Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk in his book, The Body Keeps the Score, in a follow up study done with survivors of or witnesses to the September 11th therapies such as massage acupuncture and yoga were found to be significantly more beneficial than talk therapy in helping people heal.
Additionally, if a child presents with a high ACE score, it is important to notify their physician as this information can be critical when making a diagnosis. As more doctors become “trauma informed” more children will be properly diagnosed and receive needed treatment.
Teenagers with a high ACE score should also be made aware of their heightened susceptibility to substance abuse, depression and anxiety and given coping tools. Knowledge is power.
Watch pediatrician, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’ powerful talk on how trauma affects health: https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime